In a previous article, I wrote about the anxiety and horror of being trapped in the mental prison of shyness. Shyness isn’t introversion, it’s the desire to be friendlier and outgoing, but at the same time lacking the confidence or courage to do so.
As a former shy person, I didn’t realize at the time that I was actually more of an introvert. I thought society’s extrovert concept of ‘normal’ was what I should strive for, and so I deeply desired to have more friends and be popular as a teenager in school. It was only after I overcame shyness by confronting my fears that I discovered socializing wasn’t as stimulating for me as the majority of people made it seem. I embraced my newly found introverted self with elation.
6 Ways How to Overcome Shyness
Here are some suggestions to overcome shyness:
1. Look For Comrades
Self-consciousness isn’t only limited to you, everyone suffers from it to some degree. When you’re feeling uncomfortable in your surroundings look for signs of discomfort in other people. Reading the body language articles will help you study strangers for signs of similar social discomfort. They’ll generally be alone or not engaging in the conversation, looking around the walls, playing on their phone or checking their watch. You’ll be amazed how easy it is to find others signs of self-consciousness when you’re looking for them. At a quick glance you wouldn’t have thought they were enduring these social afflictions at all.
How it works:
Most self-consciousness comes from the erroneous belief that everyone feels like they belong here but you. In studying other people, you’re unknowingly detaching yourself from your own self-conscious anxieties, and focusing on the active task of finding another pitiful soul suffering from a mild existential crisis. You’re just observing the scene as it happens, rather than the scene as it relates to you, your interests, welfare and wanting to control the outcome. As an observer, you’re not personally invested in the situation so your fear of judgement disappears. Self-consciousness is insidious because it makes you self involved, feeling as though you, as an individual, is against the rest of society. Yet that same ‘rest of society’ is composed only of individuals who are fighting that same battle to some degree.
2. Everyone Has To Like Me!
Allow yourself to be misunderstood, even hated. I’ve come across plenty of people who think if somebody gets the wrong idea about them it was some kind of problem that had to be fixed. This is the kind of fear that prevents you from doing many things; simple tasks like purchasing feminine hygiene products or lingerie for your lover because you risk the impression of appearing queer. It’s a small example, but there’s thousands of these little barriers that build up.
How it works:
It takes an enormous amount of energy and tension to always be in control of peoples opinions of you, turning you into a constantly anxious being. It’s unrealistic to assume you can manipulate every single persons impression of you. Even if you did somehow manage to accomplish such a task the reward is: instead of an unfounded negative perception of you, the person will have an unfounded positive one. Apologize and explain yourself to no one when you’re making what you think or want known. Observe your fear of leaving bad impressions when it arises and do it anyway.
3. Wherever You Are, Own That Spot
Many shy people feel uncomfortable in their own skin, especially when they find themselves in new surroundings. The way a shy person places their body on a chair barely touching it, reveals that they truly don’t wan’t to be there, they want to be able to get up and leave as soon as possible. The same applies to when they are standing in a conversation and their body language is slouching. Their head lowers and shoulders sink, they avoid eye contact, their arms are cross and their feet are facing towards the quickest escape instead of the conversation. By “Own That Spot”, I mean feel comfortable in it, the same way you do in more familiar places. The Law of Cause and Effect states that if you change your physiologically uncomfortable postures towards more comfortable ones, you’ll brain will immediately begin to feel more comfortable. When you sit down, release the tension in your legs and stomach. Surprisingly, you won’t be aware of these tensions unless you look for them. Take up more space of the seat you’re sitting in. Open your legs, spread your arms, and expand your posture until no part of you is hunching or cowering.
How it works:
When you’re feeling shy, your body seems to want to assert less of a presence, and make itself smaller. Try forcing your brain to assert your existence in public, to posses all the rights to be exactly who and where you are with the greatest dignity in the world. The proverbial “Fake It Till You Make It!“ has much truth in it.
4. Invisible Crowd and How The Judgement Is Yours
At the beginning you’ll find it difficult to “Own That Spot” because relaxing in an environment where you see everyone as a possible critique of you is unnerving. Think of the vast difference in feeling, when you’d walk through a classroom when it was full of people as opposed to returning during recess or after hours when it was empty. Your gait is less stiff, your breathing a lot freer, and your thoughts weren’t occupied by your appearance. The trick is to imagine the exact same surroundings, only with the slight difference that there is nobody there. The entire population has mysteriously vanished. And suddenly, you’re blissfully aware that no soul can judge you and you’re free to be yourself. For those of you who are more visually imaginative this method is really helpful and fun. It’s a habit you can start practicing anywhere; at the store, in a bus, down a street, at work. The more you practice the stronger your capacity to perform it when the situation demands it.
How it works:
This method allows you to start feeling comfortable in your skin, then slowly, after you realize that all insecurities are a projection of how you feel towards others, not how they feel towards you, you can make everyone in your environment reappear again one by one. You can never know with certainty of what others think of you, you only think you know what they think. It’s not their judgement you feel, it is your own.
5. You Are A Stranger
Many shy people live with this notion that strangers are these entities that move about, they’re frightening, dangerous or at the most boring and irrelevant. We often forget that they are actually people, they have families and friends who they mean the world to and who find them likable and interesting. Often we forget that just as they are strangers to us, we are strangers to them, yet we perceive our lives as vastly more interesting than these unknown figures. To them however, we’re no more than they were to us; dangerous, frightening entities that move about. In our childhood we often heard “Don’t talk to strangers” but often the most amazing and rewarding experiences will come from interaction with these unknown friends.
How it works:
Unconsciously since childhood, we’ve associated strangers with sketchy figures, white vans and candy. We try to refrain from interaction with them, and they do the same with us, when in fact everyone you’ve ever met was at one point a stranger; your wife, your best friend, your co-workers, even your parents and siblings. Children can still be taught to be safe without imposing these harmful views on unknown people. This idea can change your perception of the world and of shyness entirely. Think about the notion that if we didn’t have the concept of “strangers” we wouldn’t even have wars. For wars to exist you require unknown people you have no emotional rapport with, that appear strange and different to you because you haven’t got to know them. Therefore you don’t care what happens to them.
6. The Greatest Secret
While practicing the detachment technique of looking for signs of self-consciousness in other people I learned one thing: very few people really listen. In conversations I often found, one person was speaking while the other seemed to be putting more effort in patiently waiting for their turn to say something, rather than completely listening to what they had to say. They understand what the other person is saying, but they either didn’t care for the topic, or when they did, they were too busy thinking of a response to listen entirely. That is because most of us hold our opinions as being of primary importance, and the other’s worth considerably less. We pretend otherwise by some affirming nods and polite remarks while waiting for our turn. Conversations only flow smoothly when each persons opinion matches the other without any effort and the conversations becomes unhindered. Because of this tendency to think highly of our opinions, we feel we can only really connect to people with similar views or with those we have some common ground with like family.
That leaves us with a very limited amount of people to connect with. The secret is this: What people say is only the tip of the ice-berg of what they’re trying to communicate. It’s not What they say, it’s Why they say it. The Why tells you what they value. Speech is always motivated by a passion, a worry, a judgment, a realization, or some other emotion they’ve encountered within. When someone talks to you about their neighbor it’s not because they want you to know about their neighbor, it’s because their neighbor is on their mind and they want to get it out of their mind.
How it works:
We’re usually much more concerned with being understood than with understanding. If you learn to put what you have to say aside to listen to what a person has to say first, then they will most likely take interest in what’s on your mind and what you have to say. Listening, really really listening carefully to what interests them, what they have to say without concerning yourself with what you’ll say, will give you plenty of information about them to inquire further into what’s on their mind or what consumes their passions.
I hope these suggestions were of some help, let me know how you go.